Editor of the Bucks Bird Club Bulletin
The bulletin is available to Bucks Bird Club http://www.bucksbirdclub.co.uk members only, but here are a couple of editorials that I’ve written over the winter.
I haven’t had much chance to get out birding recently, but when I do get out, I usually head for my local
patch of Hyde Lane, near Buckingham. It’s a rather unassuming site, but over the past two years, I’ve been
lucky enough to see a few good birds there, such as Ring Ouzel, Tree Pipit, and Redstart. But most visits end
with the rather small roll call of the same birds. And just like most birders have done at some point, I bitterly
bemoan this fact as I trudge back to the car.
But have I really seen “absolutely nothing at all, total rubbish” (my quotes, my grumping)? For instance, a
female Kestrel, all thin wings and tail, wheels over a set-aside field and abruptly starts hovering. A hovering
Kestrel is magical to watch, the frenzy of the beating wings and the continual adjustments of the tail
contrasting with the utter stillness of the head. This time she decides against taking the plunge and zips
away from me to a more distant field.
I always check the pylons here for Peregrines, which have become more regular in the valley these last two
years. However, I’m more likely to see Ravens, which up close are very impressive birds. Powerful.
Charismatic. And their intelligence is well known. Years ago their deep and distinctive flight call could only
be heard carrying across the hills of the western UK. But thanks to a dramatic range expansion, they are now
as familiar to us as their cousins, crows, and Rooks.
And it’s moments like these that I probably take for granted. One of the highlights of recent bulletins were
two pieces written by Simon covering the mental health benefits of birding. You can revisit them in
our November 2020 and March 2021 editions. I write this editorial as the Omicron variant of Covid threatens
to tear up our social structures and repeat the anxiety and disruption of the recent past. And not for the first
time, we will be able to give thanks that as birders we have a hobby to be passionate about, and we have a
hobby that can, at least in part, sustain our mental health through tough times. And that definitely includes
seeing hovering Kestrels and cronking Ravens.
And from February 2022:
At the back of my garden is a small set of allotments, bordered by bramble, guarded by tall trees. Beyond
the allotments lies cow pasture, a stream which merrily runs the length of the village, and the odd little
cluster of oak or ash. Doesn’t sound optimal Tawny Owl habitat does it? I’ve always associated them with
more substantial areas of woodland. Yet we’ve had a breeding pair in the village for the last five years.
This resident pair don’t advertise their territory much, concentrating on a 3-4 week window in the depths of
winter. We think this is because there’s no competition for them. The nearest woods are about two miles
away. ‘Our’ pair doesn’t need to repel threats from other Tawny Owls. After many months of apprehensive
silence, when we’re not sure if they’re still around, it’s wonderfully reassuring to hear the female’s familiar,
piercing shriek on a cold December night.
I always make sure these owls are registered in Birdtrack. The various lockdowns of the last two years have
encouraged me to explore my immediate environment with more frequency than usual. I’ve become familiar
with the rhythms and regularities of my ‘micro-patch’: the exact spot in a hawthorn hedge where the Lesser
Whitethroat takes up territory, the numbers of singing male Reed Buntings amongst a rolling sea of yellow
oilseed rape, the local Buzzard’s favoured perching spots.
These parochial joys, which I largely ignored before 2020, popped into my mind when I read this thread
posted by the BTO on Twitter – https://twitter.com/BBS_birds/status/1491086790563753984. It
summarises how lockdowns in 2020 & 2021 affected fieldwork for the Breeding Bird Survey. The study
demonstrates that even a well-designed survey can be affected by severe disruptions. However, features of
the BBS such as random squares and fixed visits are strengths, allowing scientists to see precisely how
coverage in 2020 deviated from normal, and how to overcome the biases.
Fascinating stuff, as we head into a third year of potential Covid disruption to the Breeding Bird Survey.